With a great lineup the twenty fifth anniversary of the biggest heavy metal festival in the world sold out in just forty eight hours, and took place between the 31st July and 2nd August this year. With great bands and a huge crowd it was set to be an incredible event…
The first band of the weekend I managed to see was the power metal band Hammerfall, in a show playing their Glory to the Brave album in its entirety. Having not heard that particular album, they were still very unimpressive, with the majority of their riffs consisting of repetitive and senseless chugging, while their leads fared no better, playing simplistic licks repetitively before shifting them up or down an octave. A dull performance all around with little substance and variety, it wasn’t until Bloodbound that they really played a song that had anything interesting going for it, with it’s catchy chorus. They played a new song at the end, but it had the same problems as their other output – a lack of energy, engaging songwriting or interesting guitar playing.
Steel Panther seemed a strange prospect for a metal festival such as Wacken, but their parody of 80’s glam metal complete with non stop humour was hilarious. Despite the pretty terrible misogony, their lyrics did have me laughing throughout, and their songs were decent with requisite cheese and over the top solos. Their banter between songs was great, especially how over the top they were – joking about playing to 300,000 people today, and having gone to number one in Guam with over 300 copies sold, and the bassist having a make up desk on stage to apply more make up between songs was a fantastic parody of glam. While not serious, songs like Death to all but Metal, Asian Hooker and Community Property were really funny, although their demands for women in the crowd to get topless and on the stage was really misogynist, but at least it fit with their aesthetic. Recommended for a laugh, even if they’re a joke band.
Saxon came next, and their set was surprisingly great for a band celebrating their thirty fifth anniversary. Coming out on a motorcycle Bill Billford’s stage presence was continually brilliant. What really made their set though was being joined on stage by a quartet of violinists and a keyboardists, adding that extra degree of melody that really brought it to life, with a setlist which consisted mostly of their classics. There might have been a few lesser songs at the beginning, but their performance was tight and the power behind such songs as Wheels of Steel, Dallas 1pm and Princess of the Night was great when combined with that extra oomph from the violins. The highlight of the set was The Power and the Glory with one of the best solos of the festival, and though they may have been going for thirty five years, they still put on a good show.
The headliners for the Thursday night were the German heavy metal legends Accept. With vocalist Mark Tornillo having come into the band, and having released their most recent albums Stalingrad and Blood of the nations both to great critical praise, it’s fair to say the Teutonic five piece have been enjoying something of a renaissance of late, and this great headline performance was proof of that. Over an hour and a half they ripped their way through a great setlist, opening with the new track Stampede from their upcoming album Blind Rage. Classics such as Breaker, Restless and Wild, Fast as a Shark and London Leather Boys went down fantastically alongside newer songs such as Stalingrad. Mark Tornillo’s vocals were not only fantastic, but his energy and stage presence were engaging too, and founding guitarist Wolf Hoffmann was as brilliant as any other guitarist that the festival had to offer. Playing to a home crowd at the 25th anniversary of the biggest metal festival in the world, they really brought it with the best show of the day.
Endstille were the first band of the day I caught, and despite being a great black metal band, treading the ground between the intensity of Marduk and the melody of Dark Fortress, playing in the midday sun to a half empty arena ruined some of the magic with their great music, but there’s no doubt that in a small club show they’d be devastating. Apocaylyptica with their guest orchestra had a terrible sound mix, which is bad enough when it’s just a metal band, let alone a whole orchestra. But bad sound or not it was a pretty terrible performance, and the idea of covering metal songs on cellos made them just sound blunt and ridiculously bad, reduced to a squeaky chugging when covering Metallica. With an orchestra, their four cellos, and metal instruments such electric guitar, they didn’t seem to know where they were going, whether classical or metal, and the indecisive music coupled with the terrible sound made them the worst band I saw all weekend.
Motorhead returned to Wacken for 2014 following last years performance which was cut short when Lemmy collapsed on stage. After an underwhelming performance supporting Black Sabbath at Hyde Park last month, they were equally underwhelming here too. Opening with Damage Case Lemmy’s voice sounded shot from the outset, and from there he only seemed to struggle and become more exhausted. After Stay Clean he seemed to need a break with the band not only padding their set with slower numbers so he could cope, but also having admittedly fantastic extended guitar and drum solos to give him a break. They rallied at the end to play Killed by Death with a guest appearance from Doro coming on to perform backing vocals and add a bit of energy. They closed their set with a half decent performance of the obligatory Ace of Spades followed by Overkill, but it only seemed to be die-hards who really enjoyed their set, and it might be time for Lemmy to think about throwing in the towel.
On the other hand Slayer, for all their troubles concerning the death of founding guitarist Jeff Hannemann and the unceremonious dumping of drummer Dave Lombardo, managed to put in a band of the festival performance. Opening with the killer Hell Awaits they played a simply insane set of all their best material. With a pounding volume so loud it hit you straight in the throat they still managed a tight performance with great clarity, despite the unparalleled heaviness. Tom Araya’s formidable screams were top notch, especially the way he introduced the amazing War Ensemble, as well as on the killer vocal lines of The Anti-christ. The sheer heaviness of Disciple absolutely shredded, while South of Heaven was particularly evil, and Dead Skin Mask slowed things down with a creepy evil atmosphere. Garry Holt on guitars was absolutely fantastic in his solos, while Kerry King looks like satan incarnate with his huge stature and headbanging, while Paul Bostoph did the job well enough on the drums. As the final notes of the closer Angel of Death faded out, they had simply crushed with their performance.
King Diamond may have been following the mighty Slayer, but with a great backing band and stage set up he still gave an entertaining performance despite his lack of range to that distinctive falsetto voice. The songs were also not too distinctive and started to run into each other a little over the course of the ninety minutes, but their covers of Mercyful Fate’s Evil and Come to the Sabbath went down great. With constant theatrics on stage it was an entertaining, if over-long, performance. Wasp’s cheesy classic metal closed the night, but with less of their classics and even some ballads, they didn’t give themselves the chance to be quite as entertaining as they could have been. They’re clearly getting on a bit though, and it was only really the classic I wanna be Somebody that could get the dwindling late night crowd going.
Behemoth are typically fantastic live, combining great songs with an engaging performance, and it was no different on the day. Nergal is a fantastic showman with his charismatic theatricality and fantastic vocals, and the bands use of pyros and costume changes throughout the set made it really engaging. With the fantastic Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel! and Christians to the Lions they nailed it, but some of the slower ones towards the end weren’t so powerful, but the rousing closer Oh Father! Oh Satan! Oh Sun! more than made up for it. The Devin Townsend Project gave a great performance, mainly due to Devin’s crazy personality and banter with the audience. Unfortunately muddy during the opener of the classic seventh wave the sound improved for a great setlist – the bouncy nature of War, the prog of Planet of the Apes and the emotion of Deadhead were highlights. Jokes about his Canadian heritage, being a huge hippy nerd among others, as well as getting the crowd at the worlds biggest metal festival to have a big group hug packed the set with a lot of humour, and the only downside was that songs such as Numbered and Grace, originally performed with Anneke Van Giersbergen just didn’t sound the same with a backing track, but it was a fantastic crazy show regardless from metal’s maddest genius.
Emperor came next, bringing their 20th anniversary performance of seminal album In the Nightside Eclipse to Wacken. While they seemed a little muted during the first few songs at Hellfest, they nailed it from the start to finish here – despite a small crowd considering the occasion, and playing such an atmospheric nighttime album in the baking sunshine. An intense, tight performance was as visually engaging with the pyros and Ihsahn’s stage presence, as it was majestic and magical with some of the best songs black metal has to offer, and they owned the stage. Beyond the Great Vast Forest was brilliant with the intense heaviness and mystical melody, while I am the Black Wizards is as mind blowing as ever with that legendary main riff. They played a cover of Bathory’s A Fine Day to Die to close the historic set on a high. It’s just a shame that they had to play such an atmospheric album in the midday sun un-conducive to the icy atmosphere, and to such a relatively small crowd, but they still played a really beautiful set.
Megadeth’s first performance at Wacken was met by a much bigger crowd, and although the sound was a little muddy at the start they soon sorted it out. Great from the beginning they opened with the brilliant Hangar 18, and played classics such as the insane Tornado of Souls, Peace Sells and Symphony of Destruction alongside newer favourites such as Kingmaker and Public Enemy Number one. With a great lead guitar showing from Chris Broderick and the potent snarl of Dave Mustaine they gave a great performance, and Dave seemed blown away by the huge crowd of Wacken and their great reception, and theydelivered a fantastic set to match.
Kreator are Teutonic thrash titans and have a dedicated German fanbase, so having them play late on the last day of Wacken was a great idea. They gave a great performance, playing crowd anthems such as Flag of Hate, Enemy of God and From Flood into Fire, with plenty of engagement between Mille and the crowd. Their set went down well, but Kreator lacked the ferocity and pure evil that they can muster live instead going for the all out crowd pleasing set. While not the best Kreator could be, they gave the set that was needed, and was fantastic for an event such as the 25th anniversary of Wacken.
Overall it was a fantastic festival, with Accept, Slayer, Devin Townsend Project and Emperor being the main highlights, and the 25th anniversary of Wacken Open Air was a great success. Being the biggest metal festival in the world, it’s something that every fan of the genre needs to experience at least once.